Teche Regional Focuses on Helping Women

January 16, 2015

There’s good news about cervical cancer that Teche Regional Medical Center wants people to know. Cervical cancer is nearly 100 percent preventable, thanks to the combination of a new vaccine and regular Pap tests, as well as HPV tests when recommended. 

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2007, about 11,150 cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in the United States with about 3,670 women dying from the disease. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb). The upper part of the uterus is where a baby grows during pregnancy. The cervix connects the body of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). 

“We were pleased to see the cervical cancer death rate decline by 74% between 1955 and 1992,” said Julie Price, OB/GYN, who is on the active medical staff of Teche Regional Medical Center. “The main reason for this decrease was the increased use of the Pap test, which is a simple screening procedure done in a physician’s office that can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops and/or during its most curable stage. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women, but in the U.S., it is much less common because of the routine use of Pap smears. Most U.S. women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smears or they have not followed up on abnormal results.” 

Women should have regular Pap screening beginning at age 21 or within 3 years of first sexual activity. The Pap test can detect changes on the cervix that may be precancerous before lesions may be visible to the naked eye. Treatment of these small, potentially precancerous lesions is very easy. The testing schedule depends on a woman's age, previous Pap test results and type of Pap test used. Each woman should talk to her doctor to decide which screening interval is best for her. 

Cervical cancer is caused by several types of a virus called human papillomaviruses (HPV). The virus spreads through sexual contact. While most women's bodies are able to fight HPV infection, in some cases the virus leads to cancer. 

The new cervical cancer vaccine (also called the Human Papillomavirus or HPV vaccine) protects against the virus that causes almost all cervical cancers. It is recommended for girls 11-12, but girls and young women between the ages of 9-26 also may be vaccinated. Ideally, the vaccine should be given before first sexual contact, but females who are already sexually active should also be vaccinated. A decision about whether to vaccinate a woman aged 19-26 should be made based on an informed discussion between a woman and her doctor about her risk of previous HPV exposure and potential benefit from vaccination. 

Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife, according to Dr. Price. Half of women diagnosed with this cancer are between the ages of 35 and 55. Women are at higher risk for cervical cancer if they smoke, have many children, use birth control pills for a long time, or have HIV infection. 

The development of cervical cancer is very slow. It starts as a pre-cancerous condition called dysplasia which can be detected by a Pap smear and is 100% treatable. Undetected, pre-cancerous changes can develop into cervical cancer and spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. It can take years for pre-cancerous changes to turn into cervical cancer. Patients with cervical cancer do not usually have problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread. 

Most of the time, early cervical cancer has no symptoms. Symptoms that may occur can include: 
• Continuous vaginal discharge, which may be pale, watery, pink, brown, bloody, or foul-smelling 
• Abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, after intercourse, or after menopause 
• Periods become heavier and last longer than usual 

Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include: 
• Loss of appetite 
• Weight loss 
• Fatigue 
• Pelvic pain 
• Back pain 
• Leg pain 
• Single swollen leg 
• Heavy bleeding from the vagina 
• Leaking of urine or feces from the vagina 
• Bone fractures 

With regular visits to your local OB/GYN for health screenings, you can help prevent cervical cancer. To learn more about steps you can take today to improve your risk for cervical cancer, talk to your physician or visit www.techeregional.com .